MYITKYINA, Myanmar: The minister in charge of mining in Myanmar’s conflict-ridden state of Kachin says it was a mistake for the United States to lift sanctions on the country’s notorious jade industry.
Kachin lies at the heart of the “jade tract”, a small area that has deposits of the majority of the world’s precious green gemstone.
The secretive industry in Myanmar, worth an estimated US$31 billion in 2014, according to Global Witness, has been shadowed by a long-running narrative of corruption, cronyism and abuses.
It was also one of the last remaining sectors still under the grip of US economic sanctions, enforced following the Saffron Revolution in 2007. The restrictions had meant the import or purchase of jade, as well as rubies, was banned.
However, the sanctions were largely seen as targeting key influential figures involved in murky business dealings. The jade trade is central to that. And it was a surprise when US President Barack Obama eased the controls, with the support of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, in September.
“It is the right thing to do in order to ensure that the people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business and a new government,” Obama said at the time.
Following the decision, human rights experts jumped to warn that a final piece of leverage the government and international community had against the powerful military and its proxy companies would be gone.
Now, Hkyen Le Awn, the Kachin state minister for mining has joined their ranks in vehement opposition to a policy his own party helped orchestrate and deliver.
“Actually, the Americans shouldn’t release the sanctions,” he told Channel NewsAsia as part of a diatribe against the “atrocities” of the military in the area, whom he described as “getting worse than Islamic State”.
“Because of the American release, the military is getting stronger than before. If they didn’t release the sanctions, it would be the same as before and the military would realise that America is not supporting them,” he said.
He added that the opportunity to transform national politics had now been lost and it would be the people of Kachin that would suffer the most.